4 St. Louis Cardinals bats that need to deliver in a pivotal early season clash with Milwaukee Brewers this weekend

St. Louis Cardinals
Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

While the season is still young, 19 games into the 2024 campaign the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves where they ended last year–in last place in the NL Central. By no means is the season over nor do we expect the Red Birds to remain there for much longer, but coming out of the gate the team is still trying to find its rhythm.

After taking two of three from the Oakland A’s on the road to begin the week, the Cardinals are headed home to face the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in what will be their first matchup with a team from the Central this season. Milwaukee also holds a three-game lead over St. Louis heading into the series, so a sweep could vault the Cardinals up near first place, depending on how the other three teams perform.

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While winning two of three in Oakland bumped their record to 9-10 on the year, it’s not like the Cardinals were hitting on all cylinders, either. After taking the first game behind six shutout innings from Sonny Gray, the offense produced just three runs.

On Tuesday, A’s outfielder JJ Bleday threw home instead of to third, and as the ball trickled toward the plate, St. Louis was able to move what would be the game-winning run up 90 feet to third base. That run would score on a sac fly. Without the errant throw, who knows if they win the series.

The Cardinals scored three runs in each game versus Oakland and that ended up being good enough to win two of three — even though the A’s also totaled nine runs in the three-game set. With St. Louis set to face Milwaukee, they’re going to have to put up more runs.

The Brewers rank seventh in MLB in runs scored (98) so far this season while the Cardinals’ 70 ranks 23rd. Milwaukee has also played two fewer games (17 to 19), which makes the difference even more stark. Let’s take a look at some key bats heading into a pivotal early-season series.

Masyn Winn & Jordan Walker divergent starts for St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals
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Masyn Winn, 22, has been filling up the stat sheets. So far this season he’s 17-for-49 (.347) with a .404 OBP, and he drew five walks in the series in Oakland. It also helps that he’s in the 93rd percentile in whiff rate at just 14%. He’s off to a tremendous start to the year, and his bat could be fairly important for St. Louis if they truly want to contend this season.

The bad news is that he ranks in the first percentile in barrel rate. The worst news is that the expected stats see a bit of regression coming for him at some point. His expected batting average (xBA) is .292, which isn’t bad, but it’s 52 points lower than what he’s at. While it’s not the largest gap around baseball, it is top-15.

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On the flip side, Jordan Walker, who is batting .180 with a .246 OBP, has expected stats that are quite a bit higher. His xBA is .233, a 53-point jump, and that is thanks to his average exit velocity ranking in the 88th percentile at 92.5 miles per hour, along with his barrel rate of 11.1 ranking in the 74th percentile.

The struggle for Walker has been with strikeouts (26.8%) and his launch angle, which sits at 11.8 degrees. For someone who hits the ball so hard so consistently, upping that trajectory by at least a few degrees is the difference between driving the ball and lining out.

Is Nolan Arenado’s hot streak incoming?

St. Louis Cardinals
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When the Cardinals last left St. Louis, Nolan Arenado was batting .245 with a .268 on-base and had yet to hit a home run. On the road, the third baseman collected a hit in each of the six games, and had three multi-hit affairs, going a combined 10-for-24 (.417) while collecting his first dinger of the year. That home run came in the first game of the trip, on April 12 against Arizona.

Before Wednesday’s game, St. Louis Cardinals manager Oli Marmol was asked what he’s seen recently that has been different about Arenado’s approach. “Once he hit the homer, every swing after that has been–he’s getting his swing off. It’s been aggressive. It hasn’t been in-between. He’s doing what he wants with the barrel. Rather than the pitcher getting him out, he’s just missed some pitches and gotten himself out. He’s doing what he wants in the box now.”

The Brewers have been one of the teams that Arenado has consistently had success against throughout his career. In 78 games, he’s batting .310 with a .379 OBP, 22 home runs, a 1.005 OPS, and a 130 tOPS+.

Paul Goldschmidt struggling

St. Louis Cardinals
Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Through 19 games, Paul Goldschmidt, 36, is batting .182 with a .289 OBP. As is the case with all players approaching their late 30s, people will wonder if Goldy is past his prime. His Baseball Savant page doesn’t currently offer much hope, as he’s not hitting the ball hard with an average exit velocity (86.6) that is nearly two miles per hour below the league average.

The good news is that it’s still early. Two things currently stand out when it comes to Goldschmidt. The first is that he’s seeing an increased amount of off-speed pitches, and the second is that he’s pulling more pitches than usual.

It’s a small sample size, but the off-speed offerings have given the Cardinals first baseman some trouble in the early going. He’s currently batting just .083 with an xBA of .096 against the soft stuff. Last year he batted .353.

He’s also pulling the ball more than he has in any previous season, which is perhaps getting out in front of the off-speed pitches, leading to weak contact. He currently has a 45.2% pull rate, which is 14% higher than it was just a season ago. His previous high was 38.2% back in 2016, and he ended up hitting .297 with a .411 OBP that year.

It’s still too early to panic when it comes to Goldschmidt, but his early-season struggles are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The St. Louis Cardinals have a decent amount of veteran pitchers that can lead to a decent staff, but they’re also going to need Arenado, Goldschmidt, and some mixture of the younger guys to get going to have a chance this year.

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